AP Anal­y­sis: Kim Jong Un flies home with lots to brag about


PY­ONGYANG, North Korea — All North Korean leader Kim Jong Un re­ally needed from his un­prece­dented sum­mit with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Tues­day was to keep his nu­clear arsenal in­tact for the time be­ing and get a de­cent hand­shake photo to show he has truly ar­rived on the world stage.

To prob­a­bly even his own sur­prise, he got that and a whole lot more.

While of­fer­ing no solid prom­ises to aban­don his hard-won nu­clear arsenal any time soon, Kim got to stand as an equal with the leader of the world’s most pow­er­ful na­tion, re­ceived in­di­ca­tions that the fu­ture of joint U.S.-South Korea mil­i­tary ma­neu­vers may be in doubt and was show­ered with ef­fu­sive praise from a pres­i­dent who just last year de­rided him as “lit­tle rocket man.”

If he was forced to ne­go­ti­ate by U.S. pres­sure, it cer­tainly wasn’t ob­vi­ous. And if any skep­tics of the diplo­matic cam­paign he launched with his neigh­bors early this year re­main in­side his regime back home, the sum­mit went a long way to­ward sidelin­ing them even fur­ther.

All of this from a 34-yearold leader who was widely writ­ten off as too young and too in­ex­pe­ri­enced to last very long when he as­sumed power af­ter his enig­matic father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011.

From the start of their meet­ing, Trump show­ered Kim with praise, call­ing him a “tal­ented man” who “loves his coun­try very much.”

But more im­por­tantly, Trump sug­gested he would like to end an­nual mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea — a ma­jor, long­stand­ing North Korean de­mand — and gave Kim lots of wig­gle room on the fu­ture of his nu­clear weapons, re­plac­ing calls for an im­me­di­ate or even a speedy de­nu­cle­ariza­tion process with a vir­tual shrug that “it does take a long time.”

The suc­cess of the sum­mit wasn’t a fore­gone con­clu­sion.

Right up un­til Kim’s ar­rival, North Korea, which may have wanted the meet­ing even more than Trump, had been pal­pa­bly ner­vous.

Af­ter push­ing back too strongly on Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion de­mands it de­nu­cle­arize im­me­di­ately, which prompted Trump to tem­po­rar­ily call the sum­mit off, the North im­me­di­ately soft­ened its tone to get Trump back on board. To sweeten the deal for Wash­ing­ton, Kim also made a ma­jor show be­fore for­eign media of the clo­sure of his coun­tries’ nu­clear test site, re­turned three Amer­i­can pris­on­ers and an­nounced a uni­lat­eral mora­to­rium on fur­ther nu­clear tests and long-range mis­sile launches.

But North Korea’s con­fi­dence be­gan to show al­most as soon as Kim ar­rived in Sin­ga­pore on Sun­day.

Though its state-run media had cau­tiously re­ported rel­a­tively lit­tle on the sum­mit in the months-long runup, it opened the flood gates af­ter he touched down in a char­tered Air China jet, ev­i­dence that he had the full back­ing of his coun­try’s pow­er­ful neigh­bor and eco­nomic life­line. Pho­tos of the ar­rival cov­ered the pages of the rul­ing party’s news­pa­per and dom­i­nated tele­vi­sion news.

Kim’s night tour of Sin­ga­pore on the eve of the sum­mit got an even brighter spotlight in the North Korean media, which aired video of him be­ing re­ceived like a rock star by crowds of on­look­ers. News of the sum­mit it­self had not yet been re­ported in the North as of late Tues­day night. But if the lead up was any in­di­ca­tion, that his­toric hand­shake with Trump, al­ready seen around the globe, was cer­tain to be the front page of Wed­nes­day’s pa­pers.

On de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, the key is­sue of the sum­mit, Kim ap­pears to have held as­ton­ish­ingly firm. Or per­haps he just wasn’t pushed very hard.

Though the lead­ers men­tioned in a joint state­ment the need for the com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula, the word­ing is omi­nously vague and, it could be ar­gued, doesn’t go any fur­ther than the North’s pre­vi­ous prom­ises. Whether Trump’s claim that Kim is de­voted to the process re­mains to be seen.

And, it’s safe to as­sume, that is just fine with Kim.

He got other gifts from Trump as well.

Along with es­tab­lish­ing him­self as an equal and rein­vent­ing his per­sona abroad as a “nor­mal” leader of a “nor­mal” na­tion — he even took a selfie with Sin­ga­pore’s for­eign min­is­ter that was posted on Twit­ter, which like all other so­cial media is banned in the North — Kim’s pri­mary ob­jec­tive at the sum­mit was to un­der­mine sup­port for in­ter­na­tional trade sanc­tions that have long hin­dered his plans to de­velop North Korea’s econ­omy.

His suc­cess on that front seemed al­most im­me­di­ate.

Malaysia, which had cut ties af­ter the assassination of Kim’s half-brother at Kuala Lumpur’s air­port a year ago, is now talk­ing of start­ing then up again.

And China, the key to any se­ri­ous sanc­tions ef­fort? It’s also re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing eas­ing its trade re­stric­tions.

Talmadge has been the AP’s Py­ongyang bureau chief since 2013. Fol­low him on Twit­ter and In­sta­gram: @EricTal­madge


NORTH KOREA LEADER KIM JONG UN AND U.S. PRES­I­DENT DON­ALD TRUMP shake hands af­ter a doc­u­ment sign­ing at the Capella re­sort on Sen­tosa Island on Tues­day in Sin­ga­pore.

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